Sunday, October 30, 2011

Vertical versus Horizontal Stacking

In the life of every book addict there will come a time where you have to make the ultimate decision, a decision that will alter your reading life forever. What, you may ask, is that dreaded decision? It comes down to one simple question - how will you shelve your books?

I’m not talking about how to organize your bookshelves (that’s a whole different dilemma). No, this is the far more primal question each of us must face when we venture from our humble book pile beginnings into the world of bookshelves. It all boils down to two options: horizontal or vertical stacking. Which option would be the best for your growing book collection?

During a bout of procrastination I decided to solve that eternal quandary once and for all using a vaguely scientific approach. I had a pile of hardbacks waiting to be shelved, a more or less standard bookshelf (empty of course) and some time on my hands. The perfect opportunity for an experiment!

My goal was to see which option would provide the best usage of the available shelving space. I put vertical stacking to the test first and managed to fit 34 books onto the shelf. After that I went the horizontal route which allowed me to fit 42 books onto the shelf (I had to resort to adding paperbacks since I ran out of hardbacks).

From this little experiment it became apparent that horizontal stacking makes far better use of available space. On average you’ll be able to add 10 more hardbacks per shelf when stacking them horizontally. With paperbacks this amount more than doubles since you can add more horizontal stacks to a single shelf. On my paperback shelves I managed to add roughly 24 more books per shelf. If you multiply that by an average of 5 shelves per bookcase it gives you the ability to add over 100 extra books to your collection, which is always a good thing!

Of course there’s a downside (there always is, isn’t there?). Horizontal stacking makes it very difficult to keep your books organized alphabetically and it takes slightly more effort to get a book to read from the stack. Given the huge benefit of accommodating more books I’m willing to make that sacrifice. For my purposes horizontal stacking definitely wins!

Vertical stacking has the benefit of being much easier to organize and takes much less effort to get a book from the shelf. The downside is that you'll be paying for the convenience by having fewer books per shelf.

One thing to note when using horizontal stacking is to keep the heaviest titles at the bottom of the pile. This will prevent the weight from potentially causing any damage to the books. 

Now the burning question: How will you shelve your books?


  1. I prefer Vertical, but then a few Horizontal books on top of the row of Vertical books never hurt anybody :)

  2. Ah, the classic hybrid solution. I don't know, I kinda grew attached to the horizontal method.

  3. Well I must admit in my "overflow" bookcase as I call it, I use the Horizontal method, but it's not one I show to many people :)

  4. Vertical looks very ordered and reminds me of people who have books on their shelves for decoration only. Horizontal looks like a good book addict's bookcase should look - slightly disordered and making use of every available inch. :)

  5. such a poignant question, i do both. I just wish i had enough space for vertical stacking

  6. I think that's a dream we all have. The problem is that for any bibliophile the amount of books quickly expands to take up all available space.

  7. that is so true, wouldn't it be nice to get a free shelf for every 50 books purchased *dreams of the possibilities*

  8. A nice post, KJ, well written and analysed. I favour the vertical method, as you mentioned it's easier to re-arrange things.

    One problem is that you need to look at frequent expansion of shelving, what with all the nice, low priced books we find online these days!

    Floor space for more shelving can be a bigger problem too.

  9. I personally can't stand horizontal stacking. Not for an entire bookshelf anyways. I think think it looks too messy and unorganised. Haha. I much prefer shelving my books vertically, but here and there I'll add a single stack of books horizontally either to fit in those extra tall books, or for a bit of variety on my shelves. (:

  10. I would never have horizontal on vertical books as it could damage the spine of the books. I think conserving the condition of the books must come first.

    1. I completely agree with you there. I never suggested you should put horizontal books on vertical ones. That would definitely not be good for the books at all.

  11. Bit late in here but I stack both ways. Generally has to do with ease of reading. Vertical stacking for books with titles & authors written across the spine, and horizontal stacking for books with titles etc written along the spine. Horizontal stacking allows more books, especially if I have numerous books by one author so I can horizontally stack behind another horizontal stack, knowing what is there, especially as I catalogue my books.